The curtains may have closed, but your work isn’t finished! The last step for most theatre productions is the set strike, where everything from the show comes down. While your theatre teacher or director will help guide you, if this is your first strike, you may have plenty of questions. Here’s what you need to know.

What is a Set Strike?

After the final performance, oftentimes the cast and crew come together to pack up everything that was created for the production. At strike, you’ll essentially return the theater to how it was before the show. This leaves a blank slate for other groups using the space, including your troupe.

According to the American Association of Community Theatre, the word “strike” has been used by theatre groups for at least 100 years. Sailors from as early as the 1300s used “strike” to mean “lower a mast or sail,” usually when preparing to drop the anchor (such as at the end of a journey).

Set strike generally takes place immediately after the final performance, but (depending on the venue and other factors, such as school schedules) it may be held a couple of days later.

What Will I Do at Strike?

Your theatre teacher will assign tasks to make sure everyone’s time is being used efficiently. A “strike plan” collects their notes in an organized document that might be shared with cast and crew before strike day. The crew will likely work in their respective departments, with cast members assigned tasks where needed.

During strike, you might:

  • Deconstruct set pieces.
  • Determine what set pieces, props, and/or costumes will be kept.
  • Move items into storage.
  • Take down lighting and sound equipment and return them to their rightful places.
  • Remove posters, banners, and other promotional materials.
  • Recycle any leftover programs, tickets, and so on.
  • Tidy up and sweep/vacuum the wings, green room, and any other common area (possibly including the theater’s lobby and house).
  • Return borrowed costume pieces.
  • Collect scripts/librettos to be returned to the licensing agency.

Safety is paramount! Listen carefully to instructions and be aware of your surroundings – especially around power tools, ladders, and sharp objects like loose nails and screws. Not to worry though, you’ll always have an adult nearby if you have any questions or concerns.

What Will I Need for Strike?

Because you’ll be moving around quite a bit (and likely on the ground), you’ll want to wear closed-toe shoes and comfortable clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. Depending on the job you’ve been assigned, you’ll be provided tools (screwdrivers, drills and bits, etc.), work gloves, sewing essentials, or trash bags.

Also, be sure to bring some refreshments to stay energized and hydrated, although this will likely be coordinated by the teachers.

You’ll also need to bring any materials that you rented from the licensing company, including scripts and scores. Follow your director’s instructions on erasing any marks you’ve made from them—licensing companies may have rules about this.

Running crew members from McPherson (Kan.) High School load in the set for their production of Noises Off.

What Will the Theatre Department Keep?

Your director, producer, or technical director likely has ideas about what materials should be saved for future productions and what can be discarded.

Items designed specifically for a show (say, a bejeweled handheld magic mirror from Beauty and the Beast) probably can’t be used in other shows. But they might be saved and loaned out if a nearby troupe will also be putting on that show soon.

Here are some factors your company’s decision-makers might consider:

  • What shows your troupe will be doing next, if known.
  • Other uses: Basic items like stairs, platforms, or simple furniture can easily be adapted for other shows.
  • The item’s condition: No need to save splintered wood, costume pieces that have holes (although your costume shop will likely want to make repairs), or paint splotches.
  • How difficult the item was to find or make.
  • How much storage space you have (and how tricky a piece is to store safely).
  • Your troupe’s typical budget: some troupes keep each and every screw for reuse in future productions as a way to cut costs.

The troupe will also obviously need to return anything that was borrowed from cast/crew members, costume shops, or other theatre groups.

Should I Expect to Attend Strike Even if I’m Not on Crew?

Yes! In school and community productions, strike is usually an “all call” for everyone involved: cast, crew, and directorial staff.

Even if attendance isn’t mandatory, you should help your cast and crew mates. It’s very rare that a theatre teacher will pass up unsolicited support. In addition to being the right thing to do, your enthusiastic participation will leave a lasting good impression if you want to work with the troupe again.

Plus, this will likely be your last opportunity to see most of the cast and crew in the same place. Over the course of a production, cast and crew can become a kind of family. Cherish the remaining time you have with each other.

Theatre is a team sport. Roll up your sleeves, grab a hammer or drill, and pitch in!

Andrew Koch is a writer and editor from Cincinnati.

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